When I was in high school, my girlfriend and I used to sit in the kids’ section at Border’s and look through the Robert Mapplethorpe books. When we were done, we’d leave the book open to a “mature” image. We felt parents had a responsibility to speak frankly with their children about uncomfortable subjects. I would commonly leave it open to the same page, my favorite of his pictures.
It’s the one of him standing in the studio, with a whip sticking out of his asshole. As an adult, I’ve read theory about cross-referencing codes and desublimation of the anus; but as a teenager, I was most captivated by his expression. The body says, “Come look at me, and absorb all this loaded content.” But the face has this complex look of annoyance at being disturbed, and confusion that you would be interrupting in the first place. It says both “go away” and “what do you want?” In thousands of pictures, I can’t think of any in which someone is looking so completely at you.
Jon Wasserman, Photographer